Donation Laws Give Citizens More Clout
Brandon Sun, August 23, 2008 - David McConkey
Changes in electoral laws over the past few years reduce the influence of businesses, unions, and wealthy people. Now, only individuals can give money to federal political parties. And, each person can contribute only to a maximum of $1,100 each year. (Laws governing contributions to provincial parties vary by province.)
Political parties now also receive funding directly from the government. Parties receive $1.75 per year per vote they got in the last election. This amount may not sound like much, but it adds up to millions.
This government money is available only to parties that receive at least 2% of the votes. So, this program funds the four traditional parties (Conservative, Liberal, NDP, Bloc Québécois) plus - since the 2004 election - the Green party.
With these new rules in place, successful parties will be the ones that best motivate their supporters to vote and to donate money.
Mass involvement is very possible in the Internet era. Barack Obama and others in the U.S. have demonstrated that huge numbers of people will participate and will give money.
In the first half of this year, 132,000 Canadians gave a total of $13 million to the five main political parties, according to data from Elections Canada.
The breakdown among the different parties, however, reveals a major shift taking place in Canada. This transformation may not be apparent in current public opinion polls, in the four byelections next month, or in the next election. But it is happening.
The Conservative party is re-making politics in Canada by blowing away the other parties. The Conservatives had about two-thirds of all contributors, 78,000; and money donated, $8.5 million.
The Liberals had 20,000 contributors and $1.9 million donated. This is far less than the Conservatives and a much lower level of support than they got in the last election. The Liberals raised only 15% of the money donated this year, but garnered 30% of the votes in the 2006 election. Furthermore, the Liberals are still hobbled by debts from their 2006 leadership contest.
The Bloc Québécois had only 1,000 contributors and just $70,000 donated - much less than any other party. The Bloc results indicate that popular enthusiasm has drained away from the party and that it is coasting on the $1.75 subsidy provided by the federal government. (Ironic for a party dedicated to breaking away from that government!)
The NDP, as well as the Green party, had roughly the same level of support – in contributor numbers and money donated – as their support in the 2006 election.
The NDP actually had more contributors than the Liberals: 25,000; and raised almost as much money: $1.8 million.
The Greens had a respectable 8,000 contributors and $400,000 donated.
This degree of interest and money foretells a dominating Conservative party, a declining Liberal and Bloc presence, and a steady or growing NDP and Green influence.
Would you like to enhance Conservative dominance? Make the Liberals more competitive? Support the NDP? Sustain the Greens?
Regular citizens are encouraged to participate. First, your vote in an election gives $1.75 per year to your party. Second, when you file your income tax return, you get a federal tax credit for any political contributions. This tax credit is much more generous than the one provided for charitable donations.
If you contribute to a federal political party, you actually get back three-quarters of your donation up to $400. If you give more, you receive one-half of the next $350; and one-third of the next $350. (The rules vary by province for contributions to provincial political parties. Manitoba provides the same tax credit for provincial contributions as the federal government does.)
Some people complain that politicians have rigged the rules to favour more donations to their parties than to charitable organizations.
I disagree. I applaud the new system that reduces the political influence of the wealthy, businesses, and unions. Now ordinary people have more impact in our democracy: not just by voting, but also by contributing money.
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